Is Mask Poverty The New Period Poverty?

Face coverings will be mandatory for people visiting shops from 24 July, but with the economy in ruins, are they really affordable for all?


by Daisy Jordan |
Updated on

From 24 July, everyone will be legally required to wear a face covering to be able to enter a shop in England, and those who don't comply could face a fine of up to £100.

While face masks have been a requirement on public transport since 15 June, the Government recently introduced the new rule for shops, bringing England in line with many other European countries including Italy, Spain and Germany, who have the same measures in place.

For many, having access to masks is a given; it's a privilege some of us don't even consider. But while the economy has shrunk at its fastest pace in centuries during the last quarter and unemployment remains at a record high due to the Coronavirus crisis, 'mask poverty' is fast becoming an issue that needs to be addressed.

Masks start at £4.99 for a pack of disposable pack of six or around £5 for a reusable mask from Boots which, at a similar price point to menstrual products, is unaffordable for those living under the poverty line. This is evidenced by period poverty, defined by Bodyform as 'being unable to access sanitary products and having a poor knowledge of menstruation often due to financial constraints.' As a result, 1 in 10 women in the UK can't afford to buy period products and over 137,700 children miss school every year.

Fortunately the period poverty movement, which saw women and girls campaigning for free sanitary products, brought about change, with schools and colleges in England offering free period products to pupils from January this year. Similarly, since the announcement that face masks were mandatory, many on social media have called for them to be given out for free.

This is exactly what has happened in the Italian region of Tuscany, where free face masks were distributed at newsstands throughout June. Each resident was entitled to 20-30 free face masks, as mandated by the Tuscan regional government. As expected, many recipients of the free masks praised the initiative.

However, in the UK, there's been no mention of free masks. Instead many have expressed their fury at the prospect of being forced to wear them, with anti-mask activists gathering at Hyde Park this week to protest, claiming it took away their human rights.

With the new rule yet to be implemented, it's unclear how badly it will affect the UK population living in poverty. But with period poverty being such a wide-reaching issue, we hope the government offer support to those struggling to afford masks.

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